The 2019 Women’s World Cup, Group C: Advance Australia… Fair?

There are questions about the VAR which need to be answered. And we’re at the point of having ask the question: are these just teething pains, or is that how professional level football is intended to be, from now on. There are issues that need to be resolved. The VAR process needs to be carried out more quickly. Perhaps in time the decisions will be automated and instantaneous. But they can take upwards of three minutes at times at the moment, and they’re significantly disrupting the flow of the game, which is really at the base of the essence of football’s appeal. And they need to rip the handball and offside rules up and start them over again. Because whilst I have little option below but to call Australia’s win against Brazil as “tainted”, it seems clear that discussing VAR detracts somewhat from the scale of their achievement. This, however, shouldn’t be the case. Even with the benefit of generous refereeing, coming from two goals down against Brazil is never easy.

Australia 3-2 Brazil

Best match of the tournament? Probably, but some have been arguing this evening that it was a tainted one, for Australia. The match certainly, for all its qualities, couldn’t produce a performance to outshine the assortment of full referee kit wankers sitting before a bank of television screens like Gods, if Gods moonlighted as shopping mall security guards.To start with, things looked so comfortable for Brazil. Marta, who seems to have been around forever but is still only 35 years old (she’s been playing internationally since 2002), converted a penalty kick after Elise Kellond-Knight grabbed a handful of Leticia Santos’ shirt, enough to send her falling. And things kept getting worse for Australia, with Cristiane heading in a cross, putting a team that needed to win two goals down.

By the end of the half-time break, however, everything had changed. In stoppage-time at the end of the first half, Chloe Lorgazo’s cross was prodded over the line from close range to pull a goal back for Australia. And as though that wasn’t enough, they will have found out at half-time that Marta, as much a taliswoman as a player in these autumn years of her career, had been withdrawn and replaced, reportedly with an injury. And after Lorgazo scored a second goal to bring Australia level thirteen minutes into the second half, a Brazilian team that didn’t look especially well-coordinated in their opening match against Jamaica started to totter again.

It took eight minutes further before all hell broke loose. Although Australia were dominating possession, it came quite out of the blue, a long, diagonal ball forward aimed towards the Australian captain Sam Kerr which flicked off Monica’s head and dropped in to the far corner of the goal. Kerr, it was (correctly, under the current interpretation of the laws of the game) assumed, was a few inches offside, but after consulting with the VAR the referee adjudged that she had not been interfering with play and awarded the goal. It is true to say that she didn’t directly challenge Monica and was a yard or so away from her. It is also, however, also true to say that she was close to the defender at the time of Monica’s deflection, even if she was behind her. There was no way back this time for Brazil, and Australia, who were dead and buried as the clock ticked past forty-five minutes even though they hadn’t played that badly up to that point. A draw will be enough from their final match against Jamaica for them to qualify for the next round now.

Italy 5-0 Jamaica

It’s still possible, of course. Should they contrive to find a way to put seven or eight goals past Australia in their final match, Jamaica could still find their way through to the next round of the competition. On the evidence of this evening’s performance, though, that seems like a pipe dream. Spirited but defensively leaky, Jamaica crashed and burned against Italy this afternoon, a performance more in keeping with their original status of tournament outsiders. Italy, meanwhile, may not have qualified for the finals of the Women’s World Cup in twenty years, but seem to be trying to make up for lost time. After coming from behind to beat Australia in their opening match, Italy showed a different type of character this afternoon, though. They went into this match as clear favourites to win and played that role to perfection, controlling from start to finish. 

The star of the show was Italy’s Cristiana Girelli, who scored a hat-trick in thirty-four minutes, including a twice taken penalty kick, required to be retaken after the Jamaica goalkeeper Sydney Schneider, who’d saved a penalty kick in Jamaica’s first game against Brazil and saved the first time around here before the curtain-twitching video assistant called play back because she’d take a step off her line before blocking the first kick. By the time the third goal came in the first minute of the second half, Girelli stooping to complete a perfect hat-trick of left foot, right foot and head, the game was over as a competition. Jamaica had their best spell of play in the middle of the second half, a period during which it looked as though they might be able to find a way through and score their first ever goal in the World Cup finals. They couldn’t, of course, and Aurora Galli popped up with two goals to completely kill the game off, the second of which was a thunderous strike from outside the penalty area which may be a contender for the goal of the tournament.

Italy, then, have been one of the surprise teams of the tournament, so far. For those of us more accustomed to watching a men’s World Cup, the presence of Italy is no great surprise – even if they didn’t make it to the finals last time around – but it’s a different matter in the women’s game, where they’ve only only ever qualified for it twice before. They have, however, blossomed in their two matches so far and have an excellent chance of winning the group, only needing a draw from their final match against Brazil to do so. Jamaica will be playing for pride against an Australia team that still needs a positive result to be able to get through themselves, and they should be proud of their achievement in getting to these finals in the first place. It’s unlikely that they’ll go into their final match merely to make up the numbers.